News Releases
June 20, 2018

BBA Council Unanimously Endorses Letter Opposing Family Separation

Press Release

At its most recent meeting on Tuesday, June 19, 2018, the Council of the Boston Bar Association (BBA) voted unanimously to endorse a June 12, 2018, letter from Hilarie Bass, President of the American Bar Association (ABA), to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen expressing strong opposition to recent actions taken by the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Homeland Security resulting in “a drastic increase in the separation of children from their parents when arriving at the southern border.”

BBA President Mark D. Smith said, “What’s happening right now on our border is difficult for us to witness—not only as lawyers who care about due process and access to justice, but also as human beings.  As we learn more about how we as lawyers can offer assistance in addressing what has become a humanitarian crisis, we will pass information on to our members.”

The letter notes that existing law suggests that the intentional practice of family separation “violates rights to family integrity and due process,” and that the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy appears “particularly unfair, inhumane, and, in the end, ineffective.”  The letter goes on to highlight legal precedents whose findings run counter to the practice of family and child separation.  Further, citing case law and medical expertise, the letter establishes that “enforcement actions cannot be used as justification to affect intentional family separation,” and that “separating families is detrimental to children’s well-being, burdens the immigration court process, and increases costs to the government.”

The letter concludes that “the systemic practice of separating parents and children is antithetical to our values as a country, appears to violate longstanding precedent protecting rights to family integrity, burdens the federal criminal justice and immigration adjudication systems, and increases costs to the government,” before urging these federal departments to rescind its “zero tolerance” policy and refrain from criminally prosecuting those who are seeking asylum in the United States.

The full ABA letter can be read online here.

In February 2017, the BBA Council voted to endorse ABA Resolution 301 and its accompanying report.  This resolution expressed ABA support for “the preservation and development of laws, regulations, policies, and procedures that protect or increase due process and other safeguards for immigrant and asylum-seeking children.”  The resolution also specifically urged Congress and the Administration to take a number of actions, such as maintaining the current statutory definition of “unaccompanied alien child,” ensuring children are held in custody for the shortest period possible, and increasing the annual number of Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) visas allotted, among other things.  Lastly, the ABA urged governments at all levels to “expand efforts to provide legal information and legal representation for unaccompanied immigrant and asylum-seeking children in removal proceedings.”

The BBA also expressed concern to Congress in December 2015 about proposals to target inhabitants of Iraq and Syria for disparate treatment as part of the federal refugee-admission process.  Further, we have for years contributed to efforts at the state-level, through both legislation and litigation, to assist SIJ’s in applying for protected status, based on abuse, abandonment, and neglect.